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Secretary Blinken visits China as country questions sincerity of Biden administration

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Let's turn now to Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to China. He was scheduled to go there months ago, but the trip was postponed after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was spotted in the sky over Montana. There has been very little senior-level contact between the Chinese and the United States since then, and expectations are low that Blinken's current two-day visit to Beijing will lead to any big breakthroughs. But it is a very important trip nonetheless. And to bring us up to speed, we're joined by NPR China affairs correspondent John Ruwitch. John, it is great to have you with us.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Hey, Asma.

KHALID: So I understand that Blinken has wrapped up Day 1 of this trip, and what do we know about how things are going so far?

RUWITCH: Yeah, we know that Blinken had meetings today with Qin Gang, who's China's foreign minister, his direct counterpart. The State Department says the talks lasted 5.5 hours, and then they had a working dinner together. The State Department characterized the talks as candid, substantive and constructive. They're very short on details and specifics, though. We do know that Blinken invited Qin Gang to Washington to continue the talks and that they agreed. They agreed to schedule a visit at a suitable time.

You know, China, for its part, has been casting blame on the U.S for the state of relations - a sort of dire state of relations between China and the U.S. - and questioning the sincerity of the Biden administration, really, saying it's unacceptable to seek communication while taking actions that damage the interests of the other. In this case, you know, top core interests for China are going to be Taiwan, where they think the U.S. is intervening and getting in the way, and the economy, where the U.S. has taken steps that China sees as designed to sort of thwart its rise.

It's not all finger pointing, though, and scorn, which is interesting. On Friday, the day that Blinken left for China, Xi Jinping, China's leader, had a meeting with Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and a big philanthropist, and really said that he had faith in and hope in the American people, that people-to-people relations were the key to the relationship between China and the U.S. and that there was scope for activities that are beneficial to both countries and both peoples.

KHALID: That's really interesting, John. I mean, it sounds like what you're describing suggests that there is a willingness to work with Americans, at least on a people-to-people level on some issues.

RUWITCH: Exactly, yeah. The door seems open. There is still a ton of mistrust, of course. But Wang Huiyao, the founder and president of a think tank in Beijing called the Center for China and Globalization, thinks there's a real opportunity here in Blinken's visit.

WANG HUIYAO: This visit, really, I hope that they can really achieve to stabilize the relations and also that can achieve a new phase of engagement, dialogue and exchanges.

RUWITCH: A new phase, he's saying. You know, Blinken is the first Cabinet member of the Biden administration to visit China. The hope is that if this trip goes well, others will follow in the coming months and that by fall, the stage will be set for a constructive bilateral meeting between Biden and Xi Jinping himself at the G-20 in India, and then for Xi Jinping to visit the United States. He's going to be in San Francisco to attend an APEC leaders summit in November.

KHALID: So, John, what happens on Day 2 of this visit in China?

RUWITCH: Well, Blinken is expected to meet Wang Yi on Monday. He's China's top foreign policy official, a Politburo member. It's also very possible that he will meet Xi Jinping himself. Neither side has confirmed that that's going to happen, but that usually happens when secretary of states visit China. You know, longer term, though, things get murky, right? If they can stabilize things a bit for the remainder of the year, we still don't know what's going to happen beyond that. The sense is that, you know, the current state of affairs, the tensions are structural in this relationship. Also next year, remember, we have a presidential election in the United States. Taiwan has a presidential election. And those may undo some of the progress that happens between now and then.

KHALID: Certainly, there's a bipartisan sense that really both Republicans and Democrats here in the U.S. want to look like they are tough on China.

RUWITCH: Right.

KHALID: NPR's John Ruwitch, thank you very much. Really appreciate it.

RUWITCH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.